UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Project Inclusion : Confronting Anti-Homeless & Anti-Substance User Stigma in British Columbia Bennett, Darcie; Larkin, D. J.

Abstract

By centring and amplifying the voices and experiences of people most affected by BC’s homelessness crisis and drug policy crisis, Project Inclusion identifies the legal, policy-related, and other structural barriers that must be addressed in order to meaningfully prevent opioid-related deaths and other health and safety harms, particularly among people who are experiencing homelessness and people in deep poverty who use substances. Project Inclusion is the culmination of over a year of research by Pivot Legal Society lawyers and researchers, who travelled to ten communities across BC’s five regional health authorities. Working from the perspective that people are experts in their own lives and hold powerful visions for change, the Pivot team interviewed people about their experiences of homelessness, with accessing harm reduction and health care services, with the criminal justice system, and with accessing services such as income assistance, shelters, and hospitals. For many people who participated in Project Inclusion, the interviews marked a new experience. No matter where Pivot researchers travelled, people shared, again and again, that they had seldom been asked about their lives in a way that suggested to them that their experiences and their visions for change held value. Many individuals shared that they had instead been shown, over the course of their lives and through ongoing interactions with police, other residents of their communities, and even some health care workers, that their homelessness and their substance use defined them and resulted in them being treated as unworthy of respect and dignity. These two markers seemed to be used by others to justify their daily experiences of violence, racism, theft, threats, and ostracism. Project Inclusion study participants described a diversity of life experiences with researchers, yet the commonality of experiences that transcended geography and demographics was striking. In every community that researchers visited, stigma was the unifying thread that shaped people’s lives. Stigma disqualifies people and groups from social acceptance and social equity. Stigma is powerful because it is not always easy to quantify. By shedding light on the experiences and voices of people who are told that they don’t matter because their lives and identities are stigmatized, Project Inclusion makes stigma visible. The project aims to address stigma’s root causes by offering analysis of how laws and policies in BC are both shaped by stigma and serve to perpetuate it. This report offers that analysis alongside actionable recommendations for change.

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